Does this photo disturb you?
It bothers me.
It represents a GIGANTIC transition, mistake in “real fighting,” or…or…”non-sport, fighting.” Whatever you want to call it. First off, let me say that I hate to pick on a single photo. It is often unfair. Taken out of context. All that. You have to look at the single, training photo with some big picture analysis. But I am not picking on any one person or system. This photo is representative of years of what I’ve seen. Decades even, and still do see it. That is placing your bare fists tight up against your face as some sort of standard fighting stance
Let’s jump right to my point. If you see this before you? Try and strike the bare fist glued on the face. Any strike you like. Hit it or them. It’s lunch. Lunch served up for you from yesterday’s leftovers. The original meal from yesterday? Sport, big-gloved boxing. It’s an odd leftover from that. It does not transition well.
Another main theme in the ballpark here? Let’s hyper jump right to it now also – if you are -solder-ing, LEO-ing, krav maga-ing, citizen-ing, or combatives-ing your way to self defense? Your core punching research and study must prioritize BARE-KNUCKLE BOXING! Not just sport, big glove boxing of “western” and Thai. (And even in Bare Knuckle fights, they still wrap parts of their hands and their wrists. I may not get a chance here to discuss hand and wrist wraps and how it relates to real struggles.) At any rate when the fight starts in the supermarket, or the factory floor, or the family picnic, you will not be wearing boxing gloves and your hands and wrists won’t be wrapped.
Palms, hammers, and, we are going to discuss punching here. This is NOT an essay about fist-punching versus palm strikes. Lots of folks hurt their bare hands punching and remember…LOTS DON’T! Lots of people DO NOT break their hands punching. That’s another subject. Let’s take one thing at a time. This is not that time.
I would instead like to address the many “reality” training operations that way overuse big, boxing gloves in their classes, or some big glove boxing theories, passing them off as self defense training. And the one major leftover – fists glued on face as some sort of fighting stance.
You see a lot of POSED photos with fighters and martial artists with their hands up and on, or almost on, their faces. Photographers try to get the hands and/or gloves up in the picture frame. These same people might not fight or use a stance like this, but the distribution of these photos help create the “fist on face” copy-cat motif. People will mindlessly replicate this. Even Instructors will mindlessly replicate this. And whole systems will too. Should folks without big gloves stand like this as some sort of official fighting stance? As a matter of system doctrine? I say no.
Look, if you know me, you know I am a proponent and exponent of boxing. I filmed and produced a highly regarded, fantastic, popular, boxing series with Jim McCann in Sugar Ray Leonard‘s gym in Baltimore.
I have boxed and kick boxed since the 1970s. I still make my students kick box for various skills. And so many wonderful, important, simple things come from boxing. Examine it and experiment. Not everything transitions over to a crime or war survival struggle. Like gloves. Everyone knows, takes for granted, that you won’t be wearing big-ass, boxing gloves when ambushed, fighting wars, or arresting people, or as they say, “street fighting,” but I ask you to think this through, fully realize that some sport, boxing-big-glove, associated movements have some leftover cancers. Make the training mission connection.
If you are indeed a boxer, then you must wear boxing gloves. Same with Thai. You are a boxer! In western boxing, everything is about the big glove. Every aggressive and defensive movement is centered around those big gloves. If you are not a sport boxer? Don’t wear them, or at least limit them for special purposes (more on that later.) The MMA glove is superior tool for MMA, and/or that real, street fight prep. Best? No gloves at all for prep, but with extended time periods on mitts and bags , MMA gloves can be a skin and bone saver and your training can endure longer periods.
Making the solid, bare knuckle fist. Can you make a solid fist inside a boxing glove? Where is your thumb? Through the years, boxing glove manufacturers warn you that you need to wrap your hands and wrists and you can’t make a tight fist in a glove. The glove/no-glove transition, or lack thereof? Assaults and robberies, etc, crime history is replete with the hand injury stories of sports people suddenly not wearing the sport gear. Like the time in 1988 when Mike Tyson bare-knuckle punched a guy and while knocking the antagonist into the next dimension, he broke his hand. A point to consider is boxers hand and wrists are wrapped under their gloves, and they do not make serious, like a “free-hand,” closed fists inside boxing gloves, this position becomes their muscle memory. Take the gloves off? Under stress, they probably block and punch with incomplete concerns about their hand positions (and thumbs). I know several, old-school, kick boxer, cops that broke their hands punching people in arrests. I, and we, could go on and on as we all have these stories. If you fight bare-handed as though you are wearing big boxing gloves you may have serious problems.
I first saw these bare-hand, “strike-the-cover-hand” methods in JKD, FMA and Silat back in the 1980s. We did material about palm striking, hammer fisting and punching the opponent’s bare hands when they were on the face, or very, very close to the face, and “trapping/delaying” their bare hands when on their chest area, if they seemed pin-able. But for me and I know others, the training was so segmented, we never grasped the big picture. We would put our Thai clothes on and change mentalities and methods and then do that. Change clothes again and do something else. Rules. Segmented. We would box and just do that. Rules. Segmentation. Karate and do that. These rules and segmentations are not good. No blend. No evolution. Sometime, somehow, in the 1990s, the light switch came on for me to truly blend.
When teaching in the late 80s and 90s in my regular school, I taught in a city with two major colleges. The volume of people I saw come and go was remarkable. I never taught kids, Always adults. Many were students of other systems and I saw quite a number of folks whose definition of a fighting stance was to place their bare fists right on the their faces, or just barely off their faces, as in the photos above. Plenty also placed their finger knuckles right on their upper gum line or maybe their cheekbones. I interviewed them and this was from leftover boxing or kick boxing. Leftover big glove arts. I want to make three quick points about this mistake.
Point 1: Getting hit like this is not good. I mean…think about it!
Point 2: Distance? – If you are unlucky enough to be in some kind of fight, will there be a stand-off, “duel,” square-off situation? It’s possible. Maybe. Yes. If so, if you plant your hands on your face you are letting your opponent get closer in to you than if your hands were out, toward him more. JKD’s Larry Harstell once said in a seminar, “Make him earn that space, don’t just give it to him.” Your reaction time sucks enough already without allowing him to get closer in to you, shaving even more time off.
So, in bare knuckle fight theory, not big glove theory – and well, maybe in big glove theory sometimes too – hands always on your face like this is a problem. (This is also a problem with the newer, turban, head-wrapping fad/craze. Jez…folks. There are quick doomsday blocks/cover when you absolutely need it, compared to just over-doing, over-wrapping your head. Overdoing this head-wrapping turban stuff is…is just nutty and a marketing trick.) Again, “Make him earn that space, don’t just give it to him.” People like to argue about fists-on-face as being fine, but they cannot win an argument on this distance issue. The “earn-the-space” distance issue alone wins the argument.
Think about how many self defense people put up the classic “fence-thingy” – hands up, hands out, palms out to keep people away. Distance theory. Your hands can sometimes keep people away. Find your comfortable, performance spot.
Point 3: He’s covered? – If you are a regimented, segmented, programmed boxer wearing gloves and you see your opponent boxer lift his or her big, padded, boxing gloves up to their face, this is some proper, padded protection. You think…”oh well, darn, he’s covered.” To some extent with big gloves this is true. But when a leftover, un-gloved person follows this same gloved habit with bare fists, the regimented boxer might see this too, as “cover,” and still hesitate to strike because he thinks…“Oh well, darn, he’s covered.” Leftover thinking from gloved boxing habits. The other guy is not “covered/protected.” No big gloves! You have no padded gives. He has no padded gloves. If you have an open path to the head and hands on face? Travel it. Hit them. Hit these bare fists on his face.
You can try (note the word “try”) and hit the “glued-hands” in a standoff position should a standoff happen, or after his strike. You deal with his strike however, then you must really worry about…”the other hand.” Where is it? How alive is it? If it’s up there on his face, maybe you can hit it with these classic JKD, Silat, FMA, etc suggestions-
1: straight punch or hooking punch to…
2: straight or hooking palms to…
3: hooking hammer fist to…
Hand are fast, Your hands. His hands. Fast. And structural mistakes can be overcome by moving your hands around quickly as needed. Lots of people quickly and smartly use their forearms for sudden protection. Fast hands might save the bare-fists-glued-on-face guys, but, fast hands are no excuse to justify stupid doctrine. Most “fighters” retreat to forearm covers and hands way back in the instant that they need them, nicknamed “doomsday blocks.” They don’t use this position as a fighting stance standard. Once escaped, they return to “normal, up-front” hand positions.
I am writing here about maximizing potential strategies and doctrine. Know your goal. Know the best way to achieve it. Remove abstracts, or at very least reduce the abstract. In training, it is almost impossible to completely remove the abstract…because…it’s training. So, reduce the abstract where you can. This is a constant challenge.
Bare fists on face? I once again must resort to one of my hero’s remarks, champ Bas Rutten when he said on this subject “Ah, the meat-helmet defense. Would you put a focus mitt up to your cheek and let me punch it? No, because it’ll still KTFO.”
Several traveling seminar instructors these days, I think are running out of ideas, and have started to add/teach pure, BIG-GLOVED boxing. I think this is a mistake unless they openly advertise –
“Self Defense Weekend! Plus – 2 hours of Sheer Sport Boxing.”
Okay then, mission properly advertised honestly and well stated. You’ll do self defense stuff and pure sport boxing. Or, how about –
“Self Defense Weekend! Plus – 2 hours of Applying Boxing Methods to Street Fighting.”
The word “applying” is key. There will be changes! Nicely advertised. But maybe with MMA gloves, we hope?
“BOXING! The Best Self Defense!”
No. Not alone. No. Every week the UFC is on TV, this message is sent out to the world. Even neophytes can see this.
But this is not just a mistake of a traveling seminar person. This mistake appears in regular “self defense” classes in schools. If you do pure, big glove boxing as part and parcel of your self defense class you are off-mission. Not good. Not smart – especially when you could so easily fix that with no gloves or MMA gloves and a few short explanations. Many Krav schools have also added/introduced big glove boxing on mitts, bags, etc. to fill class time? Exercise? And appear to be more combative? Is this the best use of class time?
Folks, let’s not forget the mechanics of hitting. Hitting mitts and bags with big round, padded gloves is different than with MMA gloves or bare handed. It…feels…different. It feels different on your hands and in your wrists. Also, using your knuckles as striking point tools are easily lost inside the bulbous, boxing glove. Spending a whole lot of your self defense time hitting gear with big boxing gloves is just “off-mission.”
The MMA glove is better because in fights you need to hit AND grab and grapple. And for so-called “reality fighting,” on the “doctrine chalkboard,” MMA today is superior to “BJJ” and “Boxing,” because it already includes both as a mission. But if you just want to wrestle, or box? Fine! You do what you want and like. It’s your choice, your hobby, your fun, your exercise. Even your addiction. And addiction doesn’t always allow you to think straight. Just know what you are doing. Who, what, where, when, how and why. Know where it fits in the big picture.
I mentioned “special purposes use” earlier. I do love to see the boxing gloves on the walls where I teach. I need them sometimes as a progressive, handy tool. When do I slip big boxing gloves in when teaching? I do still use them when I think its appropriate. One example would be some ground fighting. Hero on the ground, trainer on top of him punching down. We are trying to get the bottom guy to do a move or maybe draw a knife or gun under some stress. I will ask the topside guy to wear one or two boxing gloves and give the bottom guy some safer, distracting flak. And, there are indeed times, when I think its appropriate, people need to just flat-out box for a host of skill developing reasons I seeking to work on, and the big gloves are a safer device in a progression to a bare knuckle goal.
So the “stance?” When I warn people about the fist-on-the-face-thing, they ask, “well, where should your hands be?” For a quick response? “Not there!” A vast, and I mean vast, majority of boxers, MMA and otherwise systems have their hands up and a bit forward and off from their faces, in the upper window of combat. I’d say, a vast majority. And most keep them moving a bit anyway. A so-called fighting stance is about balance and power in motion, not a still photo, position. I could probably show 8 different photos here representing tons of boxing and non-boxing fighters with their dukes up in varying heights somewhat away from their faces.
For me, for my “business” (and yours?) I am not developing boxing-boxers. I am trying to study and utilize Boxing and Thai. I am trying to help the spread of “self defense” survival in a bare hand, stick, knife, gun world. Are you? What…is…your…mission? If you don’t already, please consider the necessary changes from sport boxing to the “hitting below the belt,” no rules fighting you claim to teach. One such examination involves the use of, or limited use of, or non-use of, the big boxing glove.
(Update: This essay was shared and re-shared from here over 150 times, with a couple of thousand comments. People are still finding it and commenting. ALL positive but for TWO! Only two separate, panantukan instructors claim that it is smart to start all fights from their face cheeks. They believe that their hands are faster if fired from the face cheeks. I couldn’t help but look up a video or two that one of them made and sure enough, it seems like one guy’s fashioned his entire system, for years, based on the fist on cheek fighting stance. It would seem when overwhelming comments from veteran experts – oh, like Bas? – and some science and common sense comes along, one might change/evolve. But no…)
More! Click here and watch Bas Rutten video test! Bare knuckle vs. MMA glove vs. boxing glove
More! Slightly off topic, but interesting – The Paradox of Boxing Gloves
Hock’s email is HockHochheim@ForceNecessary.com
Get this download, click here: Combat Strikes 1-6